It may sound simple and you might be thinking, “what? I know how to pet a cat.” Cats and dogs alike interpret our actions differently than we do. For example, have you ever been tying your shoes and your cat tries to catch the laces? Or have you ever swung your arm up and away from your dog when carrying food which then excited her to jump up?
In both instances, these were “playtime” signals to your pet. To us, it was either trying to leave the house or trying to get your food safely to the table. Cats and dogs see the world differently than we do and notice details that we overlook such as light dancing on the surface of a glass or bowl of water which may make a cat or dog paw at the water and leave us wondering “what are you doing?”
Here’s 4 tips on how to pet your cat and avoid being scratched, bitten, or have your cat walk away in a huff with a twitching tail.
1: Let your cat sniff your hand. Extend a few fingers or your whole hand near its nose. Don’t put it too close as this could be seen as a threat to some cats and they may react by nipping at it, pulling away, or jumping back. Think of how your cat sees the world. A hand coming at their face too quickly or monopolizing their whole field of vision can be scary.
If you cat shows no interest, then wait till another time. However, if your cat rubs its chin or cheek against your hand, that is the sign that it wouldn’t mind some attention.
2: Begin petting your cat from the top of its head or behind the ears. Use your fingers instead of your whole palm. Using your whole hand may make the cat feel like you are about to grab it by its scruff. Some cats like to be scratched behind their ears and under their chin but watch for the signs that this may be unwelcome. A tail flick, ears moving back, or a head recoiling are all signals that they are not enjoying being touched. If that is the case, try lighter pressure and follow the direction of the fur in small strokes. This simulates a mom cat licking her kittens and is often a safe bet when petting a friend’s cat, new cat, or even your cat.
3: Next step is to pet down the length of your cat’s back. Run your hand smoothly and slowly along the back and apply a little pressure till you get to the tail, then start again from the back of the neck. Keep petting from the head to the tail and don’t move to try and pet the sides of the cat. Some cats will flip out and grab you with their paws and might bite. This is a definite “STOP THAT!” message from your feline to you. Many cats also are not fond of being patted, so avoid doing that.
Some cats also become overstimulated and may try to grab your hand after a few strokes. If this happens, freeze. Do not pull your hand back or fight back as this can trigger your cat to bite down. Making a loud noise with your other hand like slapping a table may startle the cat to let go. However, if you stay still, a cat will often relax its grip and let go. Their prime motive is to stop whatever it is that is causing them discomfort and when they see your hand no longer moving or making any attempt to pet them, they will let go.
4: Unless your cat really likes it, don’t pet the belly. Cats that are relaxed sometimes will roll on their side or their back. This isn’t always an invitation to pet their belly like a dog. For some cats, touching their belly might mean play time and they may want to swat your hand and wrestle. For others, it’s a vulnerable spot and touching it can incite aggression. If your cat doesn’t mind its belly being pet, pet in the direction of the fur and watch for signs that it’s becoming uncomfortable such as legs curling in, tail twitches, and maybe even the “death stare.”
If your cat relaxes they may begin to close their eyes or blink slowly and purr. They may even fall asleep and reach a paw out to touch you. Some cats, including one of mine, may even stick their tongue out. Keep in mind that cats can vary and some cats prefer to just be held. Find what works and don’t be discouraged.